Stackhouse-Lawson: Beef will still help feed the world in 2050, despite population jumps
Brighton, Colo. — With all the talk of how farmers and ranchers will increase their output to feed nearly 9 billion people by 2050, the director of sustainability research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is confident beef will be part of the solution.
“Beef will be a part of feeding the world,” Kim Stackhouse-Lawson stated. “In third world countries, as income increases 10 percent, red meat consumption increases nine percent. We will be in business in 2050.”
“We just may not keep as much of it here, domestically. We may ship it internationally, where people’s consumption of red meat will go up,” she confidently stated.
Stackhouse-Lawson talked to beef producers about sustainable beef and how it fits into meeting future demands during Beef Day at the Colorado Farm Show.
Some time ago, the European Union (EU) released a report discussing the causes of greenhouse gases and how enough food could be produced to meet this global demand.
In the U.S., transportation is responsible for about 28 percent of greenhouse gases, while livestock accounts for three percent.
Stackhouse-Lawson said EU’s objective was not to create a meatless Monday, but they were the first to recognize how much food will need to be produced to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
“They were the very first to say we would need 70 percent more food than what we produce now,” she explained. “They also recognized that confinement and efficient agriculture would be the only way we would be able to accomplish this.”
The bigger issue
Since 2006, sustainability has become a bigger issue than greenhouse gases.
In fact, greenhouse gases don’t even rank in the top 10 in sustainable perceptions, Stackhouse-Lawson commented.
“We consider beef sustainability to be improvement over time. Sustainability is using our core resources to produce more because we have to feed a growing world,” she said.
“A zero impact is not possible,” she continued. “The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the car we drive and even the house we live in all cause an impact. Our goal needs to be to minimize that impact.”
“In agriculture, we don’t have all the resources in the world, and those we do have our dwindling, so we need to be thoughtful and scientific,” she said. “If we reduce an impact in one area, we need to make sure it doesn’t cause an impact in another area.”
Over the last six years, the beef industry has improved its sustainability by five percent.
Stackhouse-Lawson said if only environmental and social aspects are focused on, the industry actually improved seven percent.
“We got there through basic innovations including improvements in crop yield, improvements in machinery and irrigation technology, manure management, precision farming and animal performance,” she explained.
Meat packers have accomplished a tremendous amount of work during the last five years with the advent of capturing biogas, which powers 60 percent of their energy consumption.
Another area of improvement is right size packaging, which Stackhouse-Lawson says consumers will see even more of in the future.
“Some ground beef is being sold in one pound packages that are vacuum sealed. By using the right size packaging, they are utilizing two times less plastic, while increasing the shelf life of the ground beef,” she said.
Other companies are following suit. Stackhouse-Lawson said the company that makes Capri Sun also went to right size packaging, as have some potato chip companies.
“Plastic is expensive,” she stated, “so everyone is starting to look at right size packaging.”
Feeding the world
As the U.S. looks at what it can do to help feed the world, Stackhouse-Lawson said a big issue is food waste.
“The average American family wastes 40 percent of their food,” she stated.
The average cost of that food waste is $2,500 a year.
“If we could reduce beef waste by half, we could improve our sustainability by another 10 percent,” she said.
The biggest culprit is the millennial generation, who are 18 to 34 years old. On average, they shop only once every three weeks, don’t know how to cook and most of them have small children, Stackhouse-Lawson said.
This wasted food creates additional environmental concerns once it’s disposed of in the landfills, Stackhouse-Lawson said. It causes pollution and can deteriorate water quality, she noted.
“So stop throwing away food,” she said.